Fat Tires, Big Fun

By Nicole Gruter | Photo Courtesy Joe Vadeboncoeur

Wondering about those bikes with the oversized tires? Their unusual dimensions are becoming more familiar as interest grows in what’s known as fat biking (or in the winter months, snow biking). With seemingly countless trails and races created specifically for this sport, opportunities abound for giving it a whirl.

With tires as wide as five inches, fat bikes are buoyant both in substance and spirit. Inspired by mountain biking, the sport allows the rider to “float” over rocks and roots with ease, enthusiasts say.

Winter’s frozen lakes bring special opportunities for Madison-area fat biking fans, vastly increasing the cycling area available. To give it a try, bike rentals are available locally at Machinery Row Bicycles both on a daily and weekly basis.

Just 20 miles outside of Madison, you’ll find the CamRock trail system.  With over 600 acres and three shelter houses, CamRock provides trails along Koshkonong Creek between the Villages of Cambridge and Rockdale. Trails are marked easy, medium and difficult, providing a fun ride no matter your ability. Also close is the Quarry Ridge Recreation Area, with more than three miles of trails and access to the Military Ridge and Capital City State Trails. Capital Off Road Pathfinders provides trail conditions for Madison area biking.

Former Trek Travel employee Joe Vadeboncoeur, who currently serves on the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association board of directors, says keeping an eye on the weather is key for maintaining ideal trails. Vadeboncoeur suggests riding at “freezing or just above. Biking in soft, warmer snow can rut up the trail after it freezes, making it difficult to groom out.” The association manages about 125 miles of mountain bike single track in the Hayward Cable area, and grooms about 50 miles for snow biking. The marked trails do not require a pass, but donations are gladly accepted. Printed maps are available in Hayward area bike shops or can be downloaded. Both cambratrails.org and fat-bike.com list trail condition reports.

With weekly events and races in Wisconsin nearly every weekend throughout winter you can take fat biking to the next level and make a trip of it. The Sweaty Yeti is a weekend winter festival Feb. 22-24 in Neillsville, Wisconsin, including night rides, camping and bonfires. No doubt brats and beer make it into the mix!

Or for a chance to ride and race on the professionally groomed American Birkebeiner ski trail try the Fat Bike Birkie March 8–9 in Cable, Wisconsin. Cycling on these trails is only allowed during the Birkie.

One element always present with fat biking is fun. Vadeboncoeur says fat biking is “slower, but lends itself to a smile. You can only go so fast and when you fall, generally speaking you land on a big puffy pile of snow.” In Wisconsin, what could be more fun than that?

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